Efforts to win approval for gassing as a means of culling badgers in the battle against bovine TB have been condemned by the Badger Trust despite a pledge from Defra that it was continuing to investigate the method.
Jack Reedy, spokesman for the Trust which opposes the badger cull, said gassing was being “pushed up the agenda” following major shortcomings with the pilot culls to shoot free-running badgers in Somerset and Gloucestershire.
Somerset farmer Derek Mead backs the idea of gassing, targeting only TB infected setts, and has formed the Badger Welfare Association which he says is ready to undertake trials in Devon or Cornwall.
But gassing – formerly used as a means of culling all the animals in individual setts – has been outlawed as a means of control for 30 years and the Badger Trust says there is no justification to change that.
Mr Reedy said: “It was abandoned precisely because it was not sufficiently effective and was considered to be inhumane to a degree that was unacceptable to the public. A badger is a large, strong animal, like a dog. No one would think it acceptable to try to kill a dog with poison gas.”
Mr Reedy conceded it was possible to detect the TB bacillus at the entrance to badger setts but that did not necessarily confirm the badgers living there had the disease. “The question is was it carried there by another badger from another sett – it is so imprecise,” he warned.
The Government first commissioned investigations into the use of using carbon monoxide gas to cull badgers in October this year but in the intervening months – with the pilot culls to shoot free-running badgers falling well short of expectations – the idea has gained increasing credibility among many in the farming community who believe it can be shown to be humane and effective
However Mr Reedy said cattle controls, which are due to be stepped up still further, was the only guaranteed way to reduce the incidence of bovine TB. He said the number of cases of bovine TB in cattle had “levelled out” over the past year as a result of herd movement restrictions.
He accused the Government and the agricultural industry of backing shooting and gassing only because they were the cheapest options.